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Don’t miss All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride: Magical festive viewing

I’m a huge fan of all things Nordic, and I’ve just found out that the BBC is repeating a wonderful slow tv programme: All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride.

This is two hours of fabulously festive viewing, as we follow two female Sami reindeer herders and some of their reindeer on a sledge ride across the snowy Lapland landscape as dusk falls. There is no narration or music, just the crunch of the snow, the gentle grunts of the reindeer and the occasional conversation between the women and people they encounter: ski-shod travellers, dog sleds and their drivers, ice fishermen on a frozen lake, and Sami living in their lavvu (wigwam-like tents).

Every now and then some graphics give us information about the Sami and their history and beliefs and social structure, about the animals and plants in the snowy lands: this is done in such a clever way, seemingly embedded within the landscape and sometimes incorporating old photographs.

The programme was first broadcast on Christmas Eve two years ago, and was repeated on Christmas Eve last year. This year it is being shown again, on BBC4 on Saturday 16 December, starting at 7 pm.

The reindeer ride follows an old postal route in Karasjok, in northern Norway, within the Arctic Circle. During their journey, the sledges cross frozen lakes and birch woodland. Sometimes the women ride, and sometimes they walk alongside the reindeer. As the hours of daylight are so short at this latitude in the winter, the journey both starts and finishes with the way lit being by flaming torches. It ends with the Northern Lights putting on a beautiful display above a lavvu. The two Sami reindeer herders are Charlotte Iselin Mathisen and Anne-Louise Gaup.

Ann-Louise Gaup and reindeer.

It may sound boring but it is absolutely magical, and I am so glad to have another chance to watch it again. If you can, do give it a look. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. It’s calming, hypnotic, meditative, beautiful, informative, and utterly wonderful.

Slow tv is a type of television programming that started in Norway in 2009. It eschews music or narration, and follows real-time action, rather than that edited for speed and brevity.

If you want to learn more about how the programme was made, this Radio Times article has lots of interesting information. Four separate rides were filmed, one a day for four days, and the best ride was used. There were only four hours of daylight per day, and the temperatures dropped to minus 20 degrees C.

Programme website

Daily Mail review

The Unthanks: Magpie

Every now and then I hear a song for the first time and it becomes an instant earworm. ‘Magpie’, by the English folk band The Unthanks, is just such a song. I don’t often listen to folk music, so this song would probably have passed me by, had it not featured at the end of the first episode of the third series of the BBC comedy, Detectorists.

The series centres around two metal detectorists and is filmed in the bucolic Suffolk countryside. It is a lovely, gentle series, in which not a lot happens. As an archaeologist I’m no fan of metal dectectorists and the damage they can (and so often do) wreak on archaeological sites, but the ending of this particular episode summed up in a beautiful montage what I often wonder about the finds I dig up: who they belonged to, the lives lived, and how the pieces ended up where they ended up. So many stories.

Dectectorists is written, directed by and stars the talented Mackenzie Crook, and co-stars Toby Jones. It is currently midway through its third series, broadcast on BBC4, and can be viewed on catch-up on the BBC iPlayer.

‘Magpie’ is a track on The Unthanks’ 2015 album Mount the Air, and uses the traditional English nursery rhyme about the magpie to wonderful effect, with additional lyrics emphasising a pagan theme and music by Dave Dodds. Here’s the full version of the song, with a fan-made video:

Here are The Unthanks performing the song live on Later with Jools Holland:

The magpie (Pica pica) is a beautiful black and white corvid, a familiar bird in the English countryside and one with a rich tradition of symbolism and folk history attached to it.

Magpie (Pica pica). Photo by Andreas Eichler.

I invariably automatically count out the number according to the rhyme when I see a group of magpies (or rarely a singleton: they are gregarious birds). Apparently Crook was inspired by The Unthanks’ song, and certainly the magpie theme has carried on into the second episode, with magpies being featured at the start and finish. I wonder if they will prove to be more significant or symbolic as the series progresses.

Everyday sexism at the BBC

Are things ever going to change? We’ve known about sexism for centuries; we’ve agreed something should be done about it for decades, and yet it continues. 51% of the population of the UK is female, not that you’d know it from the BBC’s output.

The sausagefest that is the BBC.

The sausagefest that is the BBC. They’ve got ethnic minorities sorted; how about tackling the biggest, most under-represented minority of all – women?

I was looking for something to listen to today as I worked, so went to the BBC iPlayer for radio. I chose documentaries, because I can always find something new and quirky and interesting there.

After scrolling through a few pages of offerings, and listening to one on Ian Fleming and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, on page 3 I was struck by something that starkly illustrates the BBC’s problem with sexism. Each programme has a thumbnail picture accompanying it. It might represent the subject matter, or it might represent the presenter. Here’s what I noticed.

37 men in photos, including one of the back of a man’s head

1 photo of an all-boys choir, with 32 boys

7 women in photos, including one photo of a female mouth and one of a female belly dancer in silhouette

1 drawing of a female head

1 drawing showing signage for male and female figures

3 photos showing figures or body parts whose sex couldn’t be discerned (1 Anthony Gormley figure, 2 photos of a hand. They all look male to me, but I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.)

So we see a total of 70 representations of males, and 9 of females of women. That’s 88.6% males, 11.4% females. Even taking the boy’s choir out of the equation, we are left with 37 men to 9 women. That’s a ratio of less than 1 in 5 of women to men: 19.6% women and 80.4% men.

I know this is just a snapshot and is highly unscientific, but if you try it over and over again across the BBC, it is a pattern that is repeated: male presenters, male writers, male subjects, male viewpoints dominate.

Where are the women?

A Jessie M King necklace

Last Sunday the Antiques Roadshow came from RAF Coningsby. It was filmed earlier this summer. One of the items featured was a beautiful Arts and Crafts fringe necklace in its original Liberty case, owned by a very lucky young lady. It features moonstones and baroque pearls, with decorative leaves picked out in blue-green enamel.

Arts and Crafts fringe necklace, c. 1905, in its original Liberty case. I am sure this is designed by Jessie M King.

Arts and Crafts fringe necklace, c. 1905, in its original Liberty case. I am sure this is designed by Jessie M King.

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The expert, John Benjamin, dated it from about 1905, that the blue-green were little blobs of glass set on gold (ie vitreous enamel), and called the pearls blister pearls. He said blister pearls are ‘mis-shapen white pearls, natural pearls’. My understanding (probably incorrect) is that blister pearls are those half-formed things caught under the nacreous skin of the oyster shell, whereas pearls proper, both regularly-shaped and irregularly-shaped, are free within the shell. I am more used to seeing pearls like these — irregularly-shaped proper ‘free’ pearls — described as baroque pearls. He did not attribute a designer and valued it at £3,000.

I think this necklace positively screams out Jessie M King. It’s her style, her colour palette — everything about it suggests it is her design. Jessie’s pieces were usually made with semiprecious stones, and enamel, and she used the enamelled leaf motif extensively.

Jessie M King. Opal, peridot, baroque pearl and enamel necklace, c. 1900. Sold by Van den Bosch..

Jessie M King. Opal, peridot, baroque pearl and enamel necklace, c. 1900. Sold by Van den Bosch.

Detail.

Jessie M King. Opal, peridot, baroque pearl and enamel necklace, c. 1900. Sold by Van den Bosch. Detail.

Jessie M King brooch design for Liberty & Co. Gold, moonstone and enamel. Liberty model number 1800. Sold by Tadema Gallery.

Jessie M King brooch design for Liberty & Co. Gold, moonstone and enamel. Liberty model number 1800. Sold by Tadema Gallery.

Jessie M King design for Liberty & Co. Gold, sapphire, moonstone and green enamel necklace. Sold by Van Den Bosch.

Jessie M King design for Liberty & Co. Gold, sapphire, moonstone and green enamel necklace. Sold by Van Den Bosch.

Jessie M King. Moonstone and enamel necklace.

Jessie M King design for Liberty & Co. Moonstone and enamel necklace. Sold by Van den Bosch.

Jessie M. King for Liberty & Co. Ring, gold, silver, enamel and chrysoprase. Sold by Tadema Gallery.

Jessie M. King for Liberty & Co. Ring, gold, silver, enamel and chrysoprase. Sold by Tadema Gallery.

Jessie M King for Liberty & Co. A silver and gold necklace set with moonstones within borders of blue/green enamelled leaves surrounded by gold wire wirework and gold florets. The silver chain with a gold clasp. British. Circa 1900. Size: Height of drop pendant only 4.4 cm. Width 2 cm. Width across three moonstones 11 cm. Total length around necklace 41 cm. Sold by Van den Bosch.

Jessie M King for Liberty & Co. A silver and gold necklace set with moonstones within borders of blue/green enamelled leaves surrounded by gold wire wirework and gold florets. The silver chain with a gold clasp. British. Circa 1900. Size: Height of drop pendant only 4.4 cm. Width 2 cm. Width across three moonstones 11 cm. Total length around necklace 41 cm. Sold by Van den Bosch.

Sold by Van den Bosch.

Jessie M King for Liberty & Co. Turquoise and enamel necklace. Sold by Van den Bosch.

Sold by Tadema Gallery.

Jessie M King for Liberty & Co. Moonstone and enamel brooch. Sold by Tadema Gallery.

The programme is available on the BBC iPlayer, and the segment runs from 21:00 – 24:07.

I wrote a blog post about Jessie’s jewellery designs a while ago. It has more detail of the life of this fascinating and multi-talented Scottish artist.

Wells

It’s been pretty wet and miserable here for the last few days. This is a photo I took of a rainy day in the beautiful cathedral city of Wells a few years ago. It had been a lovely sunny day, and we’d been for a long walk around the sights – the Cathedral, Vicar’s Close, Bishop’s Palace and the many beautiful secular buildings – and then the heavens opened. We went back to the car and I took this photo from inside through the windscreen as the rain pelted down. I quite like its impressionistic quality.

A rainy day in Wells.

A rainy day in Wells.

Earlier on had been like this:

 

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Vicar’s Close, Wells. Constructed between 1348 and 1430.

Wells Cathedral.

Wells Cathedral. Built between 1176 and 1490.

Wells Cathedral.

Wells Cathedral.

Wells Cathedral.

Wells Cathedral.

Wells Cathedral.

Wells Cathedral.

and then the rain blew in. I like the fact that we get such changeable weather here – there’s often drama in the skies (apart from when it’s a flat, dull, grey day – not much drama then).

If you’re a film fan, Wells is the setting for Hot Fuzz: the co-writer and director, Edgar Wright, grew up in Wells. The Cathedral was digitally removed from the film though, I think because it was too imposing and took away from the smaller parish church, the Church of St Cuthbert, that featured in the film. Some of the filming took place in the Bishop’s Palace grounds, though.

Filming locations: Wadi Rum

Chap and I went to see The Martian in 3D the other day. I’m a sucker for a space movie, and I’m also a sucker for deserts. So a space movie set on a desert planet is right up my street. And I knew from the advance publicity for the movie that large parts of it had been filmed in the Wadi Rum in southern Jordan.

The Martian, filmed in Wadi Rum in Jordan.

The Martian, filmed in Wadi Rum in Jordan.

I have a special spot in my heart for Wadi Rum, which I first visited 30 years ago. Half way through my first archaeological dig in Jordan we had a week-long break, and a group of us took the dig Land Rover and drove all around Jordan (not difficult to do as it’s a small country). We had a ball, visiting the Dead Sea, the desert palaces, driving down the King’s Highway to Kerak, and staying overnight in Petra with a bedouin, Dachlala, and his family (we had special dispensation from the Department of Antiquities – one of the perks of being an archaeologist). After Petra we drove deep into the stunning, massive grandeur of the Wadi Rum and camped there, digging hollows in the orangey red and incredibly soft sand in which to sleep and cooking our food on dried camel shit fires. During the day we went to swim in the coral reefs at Aqaba, and came back to the Wadi to sleep at night. The scale and the beauty of the place, and the absolute isolation, were so remarkable. (Only ten years later, when I last visited the Wadi in 1995, we camped again, but this time we could see the bonfires of other groups all around in the distance).

Location filming in the Wadi Rum for The Martian.

Location filming in the Wadi Rum for The Martian. Photo by Giles Keyte.

The Martian, starring Matt Damon, filmed in Wadi Rum.

The Martian, starring Matt Damon, filmed in Wadi Rum.

Matt Damon in Wadi Rum. The photo hasn't been 'Marsified' as you can see some small camel thorn seedlings.

Matt Damon in Wadi Rum. The photo hasn’t been ‘Marsified’ as you can see some small camel thorn shrubs and seedlings.

Given its striking visual impact, it’s not surprising that Wadi Rum has been used many times in Hollywood film productions. Perhaps the most famous is, of course, David Lean’s 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia (on the way to the Wadi we drove alongside a spur of the abandoned Hejaz Railway that Lawrence and his tribesmen blew up further along the line).

Wadi Rum in Lawrence of Arabia.

Wadi Rum in Lawrence of Arabia.

It has also stood in for Mars in other sci-fi movies, such as Mission to Mars (2000), Red Planet (2000) and The Last Days on Mars (2013). Ridley Scott, the director of The Martian, had previously used Wadi Rum as an alien landscape in his 2012 film, Prometheus.

Wadi Rum, 1985.

Wadi Rum, 1985.

Wadi Rum, 1985.

Wadi Rum, 1985.

Camping out in wadi Rum, 1985.

Camping out in Wadi Rum, 1985. Our second camping spot.

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Morning in Wadi Rum, 1985. In the background our trusty Series 3 long wheel base dig Land Rover.

Hannah (or is it Ug the Cavewoman?) cooking on the camel shit fire, wadi Rum , 1985.

Hannah (or is it Ug the Cavewoman?) starting the fire using camel thorn, Wadi Rum, 1985. Pile of camel shit to the left. Hannah’s hair looking wild due to sea salt, desert wind, dust and smoke.

Waking up in Wadi Rum, 1985.

Waking up in Wadi Rum, 1985. Left to right, Hannah, Mick, Fritdjof, Carenza, Bronwen.

Happy days. I’m very lucky.

Outlander at Wilton House

One of my earlier blog posts was about Wilton House, the wonderful pile not too far from where I live belonging to the Earl of Pembroke, and its use in various films as a location.

I’ve just learned that the British-American television series Outlander has finished filming at Wilton House in the last few days. The film crew were in residence for two weeks, with Wilton House standing in for the Palace of Versailles. To fully create a French milieu, all the British furniture was moved out and appropriate French furniture moved in its place. Filming took place in the Double Cube Room, the Single Cube Room and elsewhere. The actors include Simon Callow, and the candle budget was £1000 a day!

Wilton House Double Cube Room.

Wilton House Double Cube Room.

Certainly as you drove past Wilton House you could see droves of trailers and trucks parked up inside the high estate walls. We’d wondered what was going on there, and now we know!

I haven’t seen Outlander, but apparently it’s hugely popular in the States, and has spawned something of an interest in the fashions and jewellery of the period: the Jacobite Rebellions in Scotland. These took place from 1688-1746 and the series is set in 1743.

So if any fans of the series are reading this, I have a good selection of Scottish vintage jewellery in my Etsy shop which would look just the part (click on the pictures for details):

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Fabulous Scottish craftsmanship!

Wilton House website.

Outlander official website.

Happy birthday, Hubble

Happy birthday to the Hubble Space Telescope, which today celebrates 25 years floating above us and sending back amazing images of space.

The HST was launched on board the Space Shuttle Discovery on 24 April 1990 and deployed into its orbit the following day. A flaw with the mirror was identified, leading to fuzzy images, but after a servicing mission the HST’s problem was corrected and it was soon sending back glorious, sharp images, the first of which were released by NASA on 13 January 1994.

The above video is an amazing visualisation made using data sent back by the HST of a fly through of nebula Gum 29, finishing at Star Cluster Westerlund 2.

Many years ago as a kid, I was so affected by the ending of the film Dark Star, where one of the characters ‘surfs’ on space debris. In the movie he goes down to his death, to burn up as he enters the atmosphere of a planet, but in my young imagination I always converted this to him surfing through space for eternity, seeing the wonders and marvels that at the time we could only dream of. Now, thanks to Hubble, those dreams are being magnificently realised.

Hubble Space Telescope 2014: Frontier Field Abell 2744. Photo by the magnificent, utterly wonderful NASA.

Hubble Space Telescope 2014: Frontier Field Abell 2744. Photo by the magnificent, utterly wonderful NASA.

Once again, hurrah for NASA!

There’s a fantastic album of some of Hubble’s iconic images in this NASA-curated flickr album.

(As a space nut I love that Chap and I have been together just two days shy of Hubble’s time in space. Our first kiss was on 26 April 1990 and we have been kissing ever since.)

Rings that remind me of things: Part 2

Part 2 of an occasional series. Rings in my Etsy shop that remind me of things …

Ring.

Ring.

The alien ship from Alien.

Thing: the alien ship from Alien, designed by H R Giger.

The alien ship from Prometheus.

The alien ship from Prometheus.

Part 1 was a ring that reminded me of an Iron Age hillfort

UPDATE: 28 October 2015 – the ring has now sold. Sorry!

Lost sheep, icy murders, and an immortal

Every now and then I hear a piece of music that is so distinctive that whenever I hear it subsequently I know it immediately. One of these earworms for me for a Norwegian folk song called ‘Den Bortkomne Sauen’‘The Lost Sheep’.

I first heard this melody while watching the marvellous Coen Brothers film Fargo, which was released in 1996. The main theme of the film is an adaptation by Carter Burwell of ‘Den Bortkomne Sauen’.

Such a distinctive melody, which seemed to echo so well the icy landscapes of northern Minnesotaa wintery land populated by people of Scandinavian extraction where horrible murders happen, wood chippers optional, and heavily-pregnant police chiefs doggedly pursue their man. The music stuck with me, a lovely earworm I didn’t expect to hear again.

Fast forward a few years. I listen to a lot of BBC Radio 4 while I work, and I particularly enjoy the afternoon dramas. One set of plays that grabbed me right from the start was the Pilgrim series by Sebastian Baczkiewicz, the first episode broadcast in 2008 and now five series in. The stories involve William Palmer, a 12th century immortal cursed to wander the modern British countryside, encountering faeries and demons as well as hoodies and housewives. And lo! Used in Pilgrim was ‘Den Bortkomne Sauen’, a version played by Norwegian musician Annbjørg Lien on her Hardanger fiddle, accompanied by a church organ:

The later Fargo version, with its syrupy harp at first and rather overblown orchestration after the fiddle part, has wonderfully slow tempo, full of foreboding. Annbjørg’s 1994 version is plaintive and stripped-down, but at a slightly faster tempo, and I could really sense the lost sheep in the icy Nordic snowdrifts as she played. It also fitted perfectly with the theme of Pilgrim, with Palmer the lost soul condemned to wander forever.

A Hardanger fiddle, made by Knut Gunnarsson Helland. Photo by Kjetil r.

A Hardanger fiddle, made by Knut Gunnarsson Helland. Photo by Frode Inge Helland.

Annbjørg’s version is available on her album Felefeber (‘Fiddle fever’), released in 1994, and available on Amazon. Series 3 of Pilgrim was awarded the Silver Medal for the Best European Radio Drama of the Year at the Prix Europa in Berlin, and nominated for the Prix Italia Best Original Radio Drama award. It’s a great listen if you get the chance. As one other listener described it so well: ‘I love the way one world settles seamlessly in-between the cracks of another’, and in that same post Sebastian has confirmed that Series 6 and 7 have been commissioned, hurrah!

And then earlier this year, I was delighted to see/hear that the title track of the 2014 television series adaptation of Fargo, which I hugely enjoyed, had nods to ‘Den Bortkomne Sauen’ and its use in the original film:

I haven’t seen it yet, but apparently ‘Den Bortkomne Sauen’ also crops up in the Norwegian tv series Lilyhammer (and no, that’s not a typo). I am definitely going to catch up on this one as it is a Norway-set mash-up of The Sopranos (my all-time favourite tv series) and Scandinoir, with a good dash of comedy thrown in, and stars Steven Van Zandt as Frank, an Italian-American mafioso relocated by the Federal Witness Protection Program to Lillehammer. Frank even picks up a lost sheep in the very first episode, so I read.

Update 22 December 2014: A new series of Pilgrim has just started this afternoon on Radio 4. The Beeb hasn’t exactly gone overboard with publicising it, as the first I heard about it was when I was listening to the radio and it started! But hurrah, more, new Pilgrim!